The following information is from the Australian Psychological Association. As the number of coronavirus cases rise across Australia, the level of anxiety within the community is increasing. Feelings of worry and unease can be expected following a stressful event, such as the recent declaration of a global pandemic, however, it is important that we learn to manage our stress before it turns to more severe anxiety and panic. This information sheet outlines some useful strategies which can help both adults and children cope with the stress or anxiety experienced as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Learn the facts
Constant media coverage about the coronavirus can keep us in a heightened state of anxiety. Try to limit related media exposure and instead seek out factual information from reliable sources such as the Australian Government’s health alert or other trusted organisations such as the World Health Organization.
Keep things in perspective
When we are stressed, it is easy to see things as worse than they really are. Rather than imagining the worst-case scenario and worrying about it, ask yourself:
Am I getting ahead of myself, assuming something bad will happen when I really don’t know the outcome? Remind yourself that the actual number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia is extremely low.
Am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be? Remember, illness due to coronavirus infection is usually mild and most people recover without needing specialised treatment.
Am I underestimating my ability to cope? Sometimes thinking about how you would cope, even if the worst were to happen, can help you put things into perspective.
Take reasonable precautions
Being proactive by following basic hygiene principles can keep your anxiety at bay. The World Health Organization recommends a number of protective measures against the coronavirus, including to:
Wash your hands frequently.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell until you fully recover.
Seek medical care early if you have a fever, cough or experience breathing difficulties.
To help encourage a positive frame of mind, it is important to look after yourself. Everybody practises self-care differently with some examples including:
Maintaining good social connections and communicating openly with family and friends.
Making time for activities and hobbies you enjoy.
Keeping up a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting quality sleep and avoiding the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs to cope with stress.
Practising relaxation, meditation and mindfulness to give your body a chance to settle and readjust to a calm state.
Tips for talking with children about the coronavirus
Children will inevitably pick up on the concerns and anxiety of others, whether this be through listening and observing what is happening at home or at school. It is important that they can speak to you about their own concerns.
Do not be afraid to talk about the coronavirus with children. Given the extensive media coverage and the increasing number of people wearing face masks in public, it is not surprising that some children are already aware of the virus. Providing opportunities to answer their questions in an honest and age-appropriate way can help reduce any anxiety they may be experiencing. You can do this by:
Speaking to them about coronavirus in a calm manner.
Asking them what they already know about the virus so you can clarify any misunderstandings they may have.
Letting them know that it is normal to experience some anxiety when new and stressful situations arise.
Giving them a sense of control by explaining what they can do to stay safe (e.g., wash their hands regularly, stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing).
Not overwhelming them with unnecessary information (e.g., death rates) as this can increase their anxiety.
Reassure them that coronavirus is less common and severe in children compared to adults.
Allowing regular contact (e.g., by phone) with people they may worry about, such as grandparents, to reassure them that they are okay.
Talk about how they are feeling
Explain to your child that it is normal to feel worried about getting sick. Listen to your child’s concerns and reassure them that you are there to help them with whatever may arise in the future. It is important to model calmness when discussing the coronavirus with children and not alarm them with any concerns you may have about it. Children will look to you for cues on how to manage their own worries so it is important to stay calm and manage your own anxieties before bringing up the subject with them and answering their questions.
Limit media exposure
It is important to monitor children’s exposure to media reports about the coronavirus as frequent exposure can increase their level of fear and anxiety. Try to be with your child when they are watching, listening or reading the news so you are able to address any questions or concerns they may have.
For the latest advice, information and resources, go to www.health.gov.au
Call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450.
The phone number of your state or territory public health agency is available at www.health.gov.au/state-territory-contacts
If you have concerns about your health, speak to your doctor.